It now seems like Oscar was a very bad role model

GREG BEAN

When my boys were little, Friday nights were “campout” nights. The routine on campout night absolutely never varied. First, we’d stop at McDonald’s for a big sack of burgers and fries. Then we’d hit the video rental store, where we’d stock up on the worst adventure movies we could find. Kung-fu movies were always high on the agenda, especially if they were in Chinese, because those not only had lots of fighting, they were hilarious. Anything with Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal were popular favorites. After that, we’d try vintage horror movies (particularly the Japanese classics; there’s nothing as entertaining as a humongous lizard) and absurd comedies like “Blazing Saddles” or “Young Frankenstein.”

When we had our evening viewing lined up, we’d head home and pull out all the sleeping bags and quilts we could find, make ourselves comfortable on the couch and floor, eat the burgers and watch movies until we fell asleep. When we woke up in the morning, it was always to the tisk-tisk-tisking of my wife as she tiptoed over the bodies strewn across the living room on her way to the kitchen to make coffee.

I can’t remember the plot of a single one of those movies, but we all remember our favorite lines. Anytime the family is gathered, and one of us pipes up with “Take your pig stick, and your boyfriend, and go find a bus to catch” in a thick French accent, it brings down the house. I have no idea what movie the line is from, or the context, but wherever it came from, it made a big enough impression on us that we’re still repeating it 20 years later to great amusement.

Over the years, I’ve told some of my more politically correct acquaintances and colleagues about “campout night” and I noticed they often gave me the hairy eyeball. They didn’t quite approve of a father watching violent kung-fu movies with his impressionable children (I didn’t admit that we also watched “Monday Night Raw”), and some of them went so far as to suggest I offer the boys more “appropriate” entertainment.

Like “Sesame Street.”

You know, I always felt a little guilty and suspected they were probably right to some extent.

Show me a father who doesn’t question his own parenting skills on a regular basis, and I’ll show you a father who’s never met his children. Now, however, it looks like they were wrong and I was right. Well, maybe not all right, but at least not as derelict in my responsibilities as I’d feared.

Last week, I was listening to National Public Radio and heard an interview with Virginia Heffernan, who writes a column/ blog for The New York Times called The Medium. And in a recent column, Heffernan was talking about the first season of “Sesame Street,” which was released on DVD and comes with a warning that it’s not appropriate for children, only for parents. Yep, you heard that right. Not appropriate for children.

Apparently, some people now believe there were lots of things in the early episodes of “Sesame Street” that could actually be damaging to developing children.

Like Oscar the Grouch, who obviously (in light of what we know now) had a mood disorder, was possibly suicidal, lived in a garbage can and never took Prozac or sought treatment from a therapist. Or the Cookie Monster, who had an obvious eating disorder. Or Alistair Cookie, who not only smoked, but ate his pipe. Or that older muppet guy who finds a lost little girl and gets her to agree to go home with him. She ends up getting cookies, but as we know, it could have turned out worse. These days, we’d never suggest that kids go home with strangers. And what about Bert and Ernie? I don’t think I even want to go there. You never know who’s reading this stuff.

There were more examples, of course, but you get the drift. All those parents who let their kids watch “Sesame Street” every day, kind of like a televised baby sitter, were possibly damaging their offsprings’ psyches.

Now, I guess it’s their turn to feel guilty.

Who woulda thunk it? Those cowboys around the campfire after a bean supper in “Blazing Saddles” were better role models for our kids than the Snuffleupagus.

Chuck Norris was a better influence than Big Bird (who had hallucinations). Jean-Claude Van Damme was a better role model than Kermit (inappropriate fantasies about Miss Piggy).

Those comparisons aren’t scientifically proven fact, of course, but they’re what I’d like to believe. Turns out, it looks like that as far as parenting skills were concerned, our entertainment on “campout” night proved me to be a visionary, a man ahead of his time.

And after all these years of guilt, it’s nice to feel superior. • • • Well, Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday of the year) is over, and it’s time to ring in the Christmas season at the Bean house. And that means it’s time to stick the red eyeballs back in Ralph’s skull and drape a floppy Santa hat on his bony noggin.

Ralph, as regular readers know, is the buffalo skull that resides above the wood stove in my living room – and those glassy red eyes welcome the holiday season around our household more than holly or mistletoe ever could.

As I noted in a previous column, he shocks the neighbors when they drive by and see him through the window, and he frightens little kids, but he makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. There’s nothing like a buffalo skull festooned with red Christmas ornament eyeballs and a Santa hat to make you feel like – well, yes, like drinking, but also like spending lots of money on each other for presents. In our home, it simply wouldn’t feel like the holidays without old Ralph.

When I first wrote about Ralph in 2006, several readers suggested that I was actually lying, since no one in his right mind decorates a buffalo skull for Christmas.

I do, however, and this year I have the proof. Last Christmas season, I took photographs of Ralph in all his finery, and thanks to the magic of Photoshop, I have those photographs on my computer.

If you’d like to see one of them, drop me a line and I’ll send you a copy by e-mail. Who knows, it might give you some ideas for decorating your own home with bleached buffalo skulls. Or maybe not.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.